Denial, Depression, Acceptance

  "Environmental journalism is about cataloging the decline." (David Adam, Nature)
The mere thought evokes in me denial and depression but not, as yet, acceptance...
Denial, depression and acceptance are the the three stages of loss that can be applied from everything from the death of a loved one to environmental degradation. These emotions are also the ones facing any journalist when confronted with the challenge of reporting on the environment. Here, listed, is an array of barriers to communicating truths when it comes to climate change and environmental stories:

1) Where is the event in climate change? Climate change occurs on a timescale that is counter to news values. The mainstream media tends to focus on side line conflict issues, such as climategate or target disagreements, because it fits with their news values...current, fast moving, visual. In order to fit newsroom values stories maybe amplified to give apocalyptic visions of the future as a device to grab attention...and as a consequence, cause fear.
2) NGOs don't always get it right!  They are not always rational and can too often play the emotive, e.g. cuddly polar bear, card. Using celebrity to elevate causes can be well intentioned but can also be received as spurious self publicity. NGOs may become tribal and defensive when challenged on fact. Additionally, an environmental journalist may come across huge disparities in what they are being told. In and example given by Dr. Einar Thorsen, the issue of Norwegian whaling  had sources who claimed  there were too many whales, and they are eating all the fish, to NGO claims that there was only one whale left! There is a tendency to be manipulated by all sides!

3) Negative focus. Framing stories positively, for example explaining the benefits to self of changing behavior, may not receive the attention it deserves because the media tends to focused on negativity!

4) False balance. Fixed 'yes' or 'no' arguments on the phenomena of climate change still appear when the scientific jury has already returned the verdict. False balance, "he says she says" stories give undue air to minority climate skeptic views.

5) The climate change denial machine. A small (3%) group of scientific skeptics -mainly funded by oil companies- push out a lot of copy. Although small they punch above their weight because they have sophisticated access to the media.

6) Hierarchies of credibility mean authorized 'knowers' of things are routinely called upon, sometimes leaving true accounts, from alternate sources way down the call list.

7) Geographical divides. The North / South or East /West development divide causes friction. When pressure is applied on developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions they can legitimately argue that their per capita CO2 levels are much smaller.

8) Green-washing and staged events. Partial truths portraying industries or institutions as having green creditability can be misleading. This was seen in the case of the American cotton industries claim to be 'sustainable' which was quashed by the Advertising Standards Agency. Like other areas of media life, staging events or photo opportunities can be used to bring attention to an issue or create credibility where there maybe little.

 9) Institutional constraints.  A media outlet with a neo-liberal agenda will be unlikely to promote social democracy and global responsibility. Newsrooms are being downsized and environmental reporting assigned to general reporters. Churnalsim, or reliance on press releases and rehashed stories, means a significant proportion (up to 60%) of stories are handed to journalists. This means facts are not scrutinized and stories are spun. According to David Adam (formerly Guardian writer and now Nature) pressures of deadline over detail can mean, quote: "The closer it is to the front page the more likely it is to be untrue."

10) Science Journalism impasse. Lack of science training in journalism means stories can be over simplified or misinterpreted.  Audiences may be a lot brighter and open than writers and editors assume.  Science and journalism have opposite ends; science deconstructs while journalism constructs, and run on different timescales (urgent V process). The essential question always needs asking: Who is funding the science or the think tank at the source of the story?

11) 'Dirty' Media.The Environmental impact of the media itself can be considerable. The acclaimed Al Gore film "An inconvenient truth," had him flying round the world, increasing CO2 concentrations.

12) Shock paralysis.  Shock tactics such as "Cut Co2 or we'll blow up your kids" have been found to stall and scare people rather than move them to action.

13) Awareness - action gap. There is a considerable gulf between raising awareness in people and actual active engagement. Regulation and force is always more powerful than the media.

List compiled by accumulating lecture material from:
Dr. Einar Thorsen
Dr. Jenny Galloway Alexander
David Adams

Enviro-media Podcasts from Bournemouth Uni.
Transformational media article Permaculture Magazine.

Whiteboard workout @ Bournemouth Uni


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